Archive for the ‘Bee-keeping’ Category

Survey shows NZ honey bee loss is lower than in other countries

New Zealand’s honey bee population is growing, according to the 2016 NZ Colony Loss and Survival Survey, which shows New Zealand’s honey bee loss is low on an international scale.
Colony deaths from starvation, queen problems and wasps accounted for 87.3 per cent of losses in the 2016 winter season. Losses averaged 9.78 per cent, down from 2015 and over 2 per cent lower than the northern hemisphere average.
Hive numbers have increased 20 per cent between March 2015 and June 2016. The challenges for beekeepers include competition for apiary sites, lost pollen and nectar sources, according to the survey.
Agcarm chief executive Mark Ross said:

“The survey is critical not only because it informs us on bee health, but because it allows us to make better choices to protect our bee population and to track changes on colony loss and survival for the future.
“The report shows that we still have some work to do – to make sure our bees are well-fed and protected from wasps. But, overall, our bee population is thriving – which is good news, especially with all the hype we hear about bee loss.”

Agcarm will continue to work with the bee industry to help ensure a healthy bee population.

Plant & Food scientists report a breakthrough for the bees

Preliminary results from a pilot study undertaken by scientists at Plant & Food Research indicate that a breakthrough has been made in the fight against the pathogen Nosema ceranae, a deadly disease for bees.

This relative newcomer to New Zealand is a cousin of Nosema apis, which has been present in the country since the 1800s.

Both N. apis and N. ceranae are spore-producing parasites that attack the gut lining of bees, leading to a shortened lifespan in adults. Severe cases of N.ceranae may cause the collapse of an entire colony.

Because Nosema is primarily spread through faeces on contaminated honeycomb, preventing infection is a near-impossible task, meaning the commercial costs associated with Nosema infection have simply been “a fact of life”.

During the springs of 2014 and 2015 many New Zealand beekeepers, particularly in the Coromandel, experienced severe and unexplained colony losses. This pattern had not been experienced before and resulted in honey loss estimated at between 40-60% for the season.

N. ceranae had first been found in New Zealand in 2010 and was identified as a potential culprit for the calamity.

In response, a team from Plant & Food Research began working closely with Coromandel beekeeper Dr Oksana Borowik – first confirming high levels of N. ceranae in affected colonies, and then exploring ways to prevent the spread of the disease between hives.

Their early research findings have been announced in a press release from Pland & Food: heat-treating the hive and internal comb to only 50C for 90 minutes resulted in an increase in brood viability and a 50% increase in adult bee numbers.

The treatment is effective because heat kills N. ceranae spores lurking on contaminated comb before the new colony is introduced to the hive.

“Nosema ceranae has had a notable impact on hives and the honey industry in countries like the United States and China,” says Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Mark Goodwin.

“We need to take the threat of this disease very seriously, particularly as the honey industry and the pollination services of honey bees are very important to New Zealand’s economy.

“The initial findings of this research are a very encouraging first step in the fight against this threat.”

The team will build on this initial study with further investigations into the effect of seasonality and long-term treatment on bee populations.

If heat treatment is found to be a safe and consistent management option for beekeepers plagued by Nosema, there is the potential to greatly improve the health and productivity of New Zealand beehives.

Lincoln researchers calculate the financial sting from the loss of honeybees

New Zealand agriculture stands to lose $295-728 million annually if the local honeybee population continues to decline, according to a new study into the economic consequences of a decline in pollination rates.

One of the co-authors of the study, Lincoln University Professor Stephen Wratten of the Bio-Protection Research Centre, says it is well known that a global decline in the populations of insect pollinators poses a major threat to food and nutritional security.

He says:

“We’ve lost most of our wild bees in New Zealand to varroa mite, and cultivated bees are becoming resistant to varroa pesticides. Functioning beehives are becoming increasingly expensive for farmers to rent. We know the decline in bee populations is going to have a major impact on our economy, but we wanted to measure the impact.”

Previous methods of estimating the economic value of pollination have focused on desktop calculations around the value of crops and the dependency of those crops on pollinators. Professor Wratten says the experimental manipulation of pollination rates is a more direct estimation of the economic value of pollination, or ecosystem services (ES).

A study was conducted in commercial fields producing pak choi for seed production. Some of the plants were covered with thin white mesh bags for varying time periods, preventing honeybees and fly species, which are key pollinators for the crop, from accessing the plants. Changes in seed yield, seeds per pod and proportion of unfertilised pods as a result of changing pollination rates were identified. The economic impact of varying pollination rates was then extrapolated to the main 18 pollination-dependent crops in New Zealand.

The economic impacts of loss of pollinators include higher prices for consumers as crop yields are reduced and food production costs increase.

“It’s critical to understand marginal changes in ES and their economic consequences in order to identify appropriate policy responses and avert further losses,” says Professor Wratten.

“Modifying existing agricultural systems to enhance ES requires a range of mechanisms, such as payments for ES. Current policies at a national and global level continue to largely ignore the value of ES contributions such as biological control and pollination.”

Professor Wratten says farmers worldwide need help to put appropriate diversity back into their lands.

“There is a lot of scientific knowledge accumulating but this has to be turned into ‘recipes’ for end users like farmers to understand and implement. The big challenge is to have a recipe that works. Give farmers the right seeds to plant. Make sure the bees get what they need. It’s not about planting pretty flowers. It’s the science that counts.

“The best way to deliver this is through what we might call ‘farmer teachers’ – farmers who understand and use the recipe, who will get out into the paddock and be listened to by other farmers.”

Dr Mark Goodwin wins apiculture award

Dr Mark Goodwin, a Plant & Food Research scientist who specialises in honey bee and hive health and the pollination services provided by bee colonies, has won the inaugural Apiculture New Zealand Peter Molan Award.

The award and associated research grant recognises his outstanding contribution to science which advances the apiculture industry.

Dr Goodwin’s research has put him at the forefront of the fight against pests and diseases such as Varroa, American foulbrood and, most recently, Nosema ceranae.

Of particular significance, he was a key contributor to far-reaching work on kiwifruit pollination, and has conducted important research in honey bee toxicity. His research has often led to changes in industry practice and policy. He has also been a leading spokesperson for the apiculture industry.

Dr Peter Molan, after whom the award is named, was a pioneer of New Zealand’s apiculture industry, particularly in his work on the health benefits of mānuka honey.


Nitrogen loss research benefits from scholarship

Sheree Balvert, a second-year University of Waikato student who is looking into the environmental benefits of feeeding cows brassicas, has been awarded the $10,000 2016 Pukehou Pouto Scholarship.

The scholarship is awarded annually to students from any New Zealand university for postgraduate study in either agricultural science or silvicultural (forestry) science.

Sheree is researching the impact of feed change in cows and whether feeding them forage brassicas such as turnips, swedes and kale affects the nitrogen cycle. This could reduce nitrogen loss in agricultural systems such as dairy or dry-stock farms.

“Cows are inefficient feeders with 70-95% of the nitrogen they eat being excreted in their waste,” she says. “The concentrated urine patches that are deposited onto the ground contain more nitrogen than the plants and microbes in the soil can process, and the excess nitrogen is lost as nitrous oxide gas or as nitrate leaching out of the soil.”

Sheree is supervised by Professor Louis Schipper, at the University of Waikato, and Dr Jiafa Luo, at AgResearch. Her research is funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium. Her stipend is also provided by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.


Survey finds queen problems are the biggest health issue for bees

New Zealand honey bee population is growing and bee losses are low on an international scale, the inaugural NZ Colony Loss and Survival Survey has found.

Queen problems were the main contributing factor to the honey bee losses, which averaged 10.73 per cent over the 2015 winter season. This is because a well-mated healthy queen drives the reproduction and growth of a colony, according to the report.

Starvation was the most common cause for colony loss. Weak, unhealthy, and sick bees are less likely to survive wintering, which leads to losses of entire colonies.

The survey found the parasitic varroa mite is also one of the biggest challenges to the health of the bee population. Evidence of the mite ranged from 72.7 per cent in Marlborough/Nelson/West Coast area to 28 per cent in Otago/Southland (the last region of New Zealand to be infested by varroa).

Agcarm chief executive, Mark Ross says:

“The survey is critical not only because it informs us on bee health, but because it allows us to make better choices to protect our bee population and to track changes on colony loss and survival for the future.

“The report shows that we still have some work to do – to make sure our bees are well-fed; freed of varroa; and protected from wasps. But, overall, our bee population is thriving – which is good news especially after all of the over-dramatised aspersions on the state of our pollinators.”

The survey was conducted in October 2015 by Landcare Research. It was funded by Agcarm, the Ministry for Primary Industries, National Beekeepers Association and Federated Farmers Bee Industry Group.